Report from Toronto International Film Festival - Day 3
22nd Sep 08
Having missed the Midnight Madness screening of JCVD on the opening night it was imperative for me to catch the press screening, so that took priority for Saturday morning. With the screening taking place at 10.30am I was afforded the luxury of a lie in, although I must have still been a little fuzzy in the head as I mistakenly arrived at the Varsity cinema instead of the Cumberland! Arriving at the correct venue with moments to spare I hooked up with Ian and Ant just in time to see ‘the Muscles from Brussels’ tackle his most challenging role to date – himself. Director Mabrouk El Mechri depicts Van Damme as a struggling actor battling agents, lawyers and engaged in a desperate custody dispute over his daughter. Back home in Belgium, a routine trip to the post office goes awry when Van Damme finds himself caught up in a robbery. Can the faded action star draw on his talent to save the day?
Jean Claude Van Damme JCVD
It’s a clever satire on the notion of fame that’s spoilt by a dour choice of brown filter used throughout the film, and a too cerebral approach to the material. There’s too much unnecessary repetition of earlier scenes as the plot reveals itself when the audience has already worked out what’s going on, and I feel that a broader approach to the comedy and action would have served the film better – nothing quite matches up to the inspired opening sequence which finds the actor shooting a long take for another straight-to-DVD action film.
Still, there’s no doubting that Van Damme can really act when given the right material and he delivers a great monologue to camera during the film that breaks the 4th wall to the viewer. Not a particular favourite of mine, but with a slew of good reviews and two sold out public screenings, JCVD was undoubtedly one of the successes of the festival.
Since I was already up at the Cumberland I decided to grab some lunch at the nearby Eggstasy diner which Todd had introduced me to last year. As I’ve discovered all over the city, the locals are always chatty and friendly and my waitress was keen to hear all about my TIFF experience thus far and look at my photos while she took care of my order.
It Might Get Loud press conference
My next port of call was the Sutton Place Hotel to attend the press conference for It Might Get Loud. A new documentary about the guitar from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), I was keen to pop along as the guitarists representing the three generations were Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes). During a quite jovial Q&A session the mutual respect and friendship between the three musicians was clear to see, although it was rather a shame that some journalists were just focused on probing about the future of Led Zeppelin rather than on asking questions about the film itself.
Kat Dennings and Michael Cera at the Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist premiere
I had a public ticket for the world premiere of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist at 6pm so I got to the Ryerson early in order to do my paparazzi bit. Waiting with the other professional photographers we were informed that most of the cast were going to be attending, so the reps supplied us with a handy crib sheet so that we could recognise some of the less familiar names. In addition to Michael Cera and Kat Dennings and the film’s director Peter Sollett, I also managed to spot actors Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena, Jonathan B. Wright, Jay Baruchel and Eddie Kaye Thomas, plus Tyler Labine who I recognised from the hit TV series Reaper.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Set over the course of a single night, the film follows the blossoming relationship between Nick (Cera) and Norah (Dennings) when they’re thrown together after a gig and bond through a mutual love of music. Searching for a late night secret gig by their favourite band the couple first have to deal with their best friends (including the very drunk Caroline (Graynor) and her everlasting piece of gum) and their on/off partners as they cruise around NYC. It’s a hip, feel-good film with a young ensemble cast evoking memories of the classic John Hughes brat-pack movies of the eighties. The best film about music obsessives since High Fidelity, it goes without saying that Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist comes complete with a killer soundtrack including Vampire Weekend, We Are Scientists and Band Of Horses.
Fernando Meirelles at the Blindness premiere
After an all-too-brief post-screening Q&A session I legged it down the street to the Elgin Theatre, a lovely old fashioned movie theatre, for my second public screening that day, Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness. Quickly taking a spot right at the end of the red carpet I waited as long as I could (without forfeiting my seat) to catch the stars arriving. John Malkovich and Geoffrey Rush both walked past on their way to see Disgrace, and then the Blindness guests started to filter past including Don McKellar, Fernando Meirelles, Adrien Brody, Sandra Oh, Gael Garcia Bernal and Danny Glover before I was forced to dart inside, thus missing the two leads Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.
Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo in Blindness premiere
Adapted from Jose Saramago’s novel by Don McKellar (was directed the amazing but little seen Last Night), Blindness is an apocalyptic drama that shows what happens when the population is suddenly struck down by a virus that causes loss of vision. One group seek refuge in an old asylum where – in a microcosm of the larger world outside – society soon breaks down, factions emerge and the worst human traits come to the surface. Trying to steer her band of survivors through the crisis is the one unaffected woman (Moore) who has concealed her sight so that she can remain with her husband (Ruffalo).
Stripping away all of the dressing, Blindness is essentially a horror film and like The Mist it demonstrates that often what’s most scary is human nature itself when pushed to the extreme. Meirelles uses lots of white light and blurred images to illustrate the drama and the result is a powerfully tense and effective piece of cinema.
Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento at the Deadgirl premiere
Saturday’s Midnight Madness film was Deadgirl, a relatively unknown prospect from duo Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento working from an original script from Trent Haaga (The Toxic Avenger IV). The directors, writer and principal cast were all in attendance which gave me ample opportunity to talk to actress Jenny Spain – the ‘deadgirl’ of the title - about the challenges of playing someone who’s tied naked to a gurney in various states of decomposition for the entire film.
With Jenny Spain at the Deadgirl premiere
Part coming of age, part horror, the movie opens with two friends Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) bunking off school and running wild in an abandoned hospital. Breaking into the basement boiler room they find the dead body of a young woman strapped to a hospital gurney. Only it soon appears that she’s not really dead after all. What do they do? Being boys of a certain age, following JT’s lead, they commit the unspeakable. Later, as their visits increase in frequency so do the number of friends that uncover their dirty little secret.
By the nature of its subject matter Deadgirl takes us to some very dark places. Had it not been for some light relief then perhaps it would have been too reprehensible to enjoy, but having said that, I feel that the directors lean too much to the other side introducing some comical situations and characters that seem out of place from the central thrust of the film. Shot digitally on Codex (straight onto a hard drive) it’s a flawed yet fascinating debut which whilst too extreme for mainstream audiences throws up some interesting moral questions for those brave enough to investigate further.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist screens at the London Film Festival on 19th & 22nd October and then opens in the UK on 30th January 2009.
Blindness opens in the UK on 28th November.
For more information on TIFF including the Midnight Madness blogs please visit www.tiff08.ca.